Sunday, 5 August 2007

How can a poor man stand such times ...?

While channel hopping (bad habit - hard to quit!) on Friday night, I came across the end of Bruce Springsteen live in Dublin 2007. I loved his version of When the Saints go Marching In and This Little Light of Mine - so on Saturday went out and bought DVD and CD version from a wee independent music shop in Perth.

By the way, how do high street chains expect to survive if they only sell music that's in the charts? They're not doing theselves any favours in my book! Anyway ...

One of the songs on Sprinsteen's live recording is "How can a poor man stand such times and live". On the same day, the headline soory in The Herald was "Debt figures reach record levels". Spot the connection?

It seems that for some 'poor' people (not necessarily poor in material terms), the answer is to borrow more. Why? Because our society increasingly seems to encourage material acquisition (like Springsteen CD's?). How have we managed to turn shopping in to a pastime? I've asked my teenage daughter - response was quizzical look, which meant that I was being weird again!

More importantly, what could the church do about this state of affairs (materialism and debt - not my daughter)? How can we be salt and light in the modern world?
We can be light by supporting those in debt - building relationships and using the skills that we have within our churches to support people - as Christians Against Poverty do.

But what about salt? How can we have a preserving influence? What behaviours can we model that will help? How do we tackle the needs of the apparently prosperous in our middle class, suburban world? I don't have answers. But I'm sure that for churches in the West, this is an important dimension of incarnational, transformational living - ideas on a postcard ...?

"Well, the doctor comes 'round here with his face all bright
And he says "in a little while you'll be alright"
All he gives is a humbug pill, a dose of dope and a great big bill
Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?
He says "me and my old school pals had some might high times down here
And what happened to you poor black folks, well it just ain't fair"
He took a look around gave a little pep talk, said "I'm with you" then he took a little walk
Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?"
- Blind Alfred Reed and Bruce Springsteen


Lins Honeyman said...

I first heard "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live" on The Blues Band's 1993 album 'Homage' with an arrangement of the song by Dave Kelly. Worth checking out.

That Hideous Man said...

Good to see your reference to "Christians Against Poverty". I came accross their work this summer whilst away in England, as my friends church is involved with them in Birmingham. I noticed that they don't have much going on in Scotland though, and I agree that this is exactly the kind of thing which we should support. I know that Care for the Family offer similar suport for those in debt though.

I think that there might also be a role for the church to denounce the businesses and advertisers who are permitted to aggressively market credit as the answer to life's problems. Some of the finance companies claims, as well as the images they show of stressed people being transformed into beaming, happy, radiant people simply by consolidating their debts into one company... are frankly scandalous; as is the marketing of credit to the young, the ever-increasing credit limit (desired or not), the 50yr mortgage.

We constantly hear the complaint that people these days do not know right from wrong etc. But a society which expects individuals to morally constrain their behaviour, while much government and business operate only on amoral principles of power and profit is naive.

The kind of work that CARE and CAP are doing is exactly what it means for Christians to engage with people as salt and light, is truly counter-cultural. The next challenge is for me to try and 'put to death' (as Paul would say) the part of me which is a stubborn, resistant and committed consumerist. However much I do not believe that having the power to purchase is a defining element of life - an element of this deception lurks within my oh-so-western psyche.